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For the first time in California history, a ballot will make its way in the mail this week to every registered California voter, a decision made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that will reshape the election experience as well as the strategies of campaigns and candidates.

More than 21 million ballots will be mailed, more than in any state in the nation. Most will arrive this week, though some counties began the process almost two weeks ago. State law requires absentee ballots to be mailed no later than Monday, 29 days before the Nov. 3 election.

Few states have moved more decisively toward voting by mail over the last two decades than California, and the results have been striking. At least two-thirds of the ballots cast in the three most recent statewide elections had been mailed to voters, peaking at 72% of all votes recorded in the March primary.

Even so, millions of voters have bucked the trend and continued to vote in person on election day, and millions more don’t often participate or are newly registered. Should those two groups decide to use the ballot that arrives in the mail, they will have to abide by voting rules that might not be easily understood.

“Yes, it’s a big convenience,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “But it shifts the responsibility for getting all the steps right from a poll worker to the voter.”

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